Top ad firm outlines business sectors hit the most by the pandemic, and the ones that are faring better... for now

Key Points
  • Advertising holding company Omnicom saw shares up more than 3% on Tuesday morning after reporting its first-quarter results.
  • The company said sectors like travel, lodging and entertainment; energy and oil and gas; nonessential retail; and automotive have been more immediately impacted by the pandemic and are already postponing or reducing marketing spend.
  • Meanwhile, health care and pharmaceuticals, technology and telecommunications, financial services and consumer products have fared better so far, the company said. But it noted that demand for marketing services will likely decline as advertisers cut costs short-term because of economic uncertainty. 
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Major U.S.-based advertising holding company Omnicom Group said Tuesday that some sectors including travel and entertainment and energy are cutting costs, including postponing or reducing marketing spend, due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. But other sectors are doing better — for now. 

Omnicom shares were up more than 3% on Tuesday afternoon after it reported first-quarter results.

The advertising industry is dealing with the immediate pullback of some advertisers and bracing for the wider impact of any economic fallout on client spending, since marketing is often one of the first items that businesses cut during a financial downturn. Some brand advertisers have said they've already dramatically reduced spend. Omnicom and its peers have begun cost cuts because of those immediate and future impacts on advertisers. 

Omnicom said in its Q1 2020 earnings report that sectors that have been affected "more immediately and more significantly than others" from the pandemic include:

  • Travel
  • Lodging
  • Entertainment
  • Energy and oil and gas
  • Nonessential retail
  • Automotive

Sectors that "fared relatively well to date" include:

  • Health care and pharmaceuticals
  • Technology and telecommunications
  • Financial services
  • "Consumer products"

But, Omnicom said conditions are volatile and "economic uncertainty cuts across all clients, industries and geographies," meaning even those sectors faring better for now will likely cut ad spend, too

"Overall, while we have a diversified portfolio of service offerings, clients and geographies, demand for our services can be expected to decline as marketers reduce expenditures in the short-term due to the uncertain impact of the pandemic on the global economy," Omnicom said.

The company said it saw a reduction in its revenue beginning late in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, and expects that decrease in revenue to continue for the rest of the year.

Omnicom said it's taking cost-cutting measures, including through voluntary pay reductions and by cutting pay for agency leaders and senior execs. The company has halted hiring, frozen salary increases and eliminated or reduced the number of freelancers it works with. Its agencies have also implemented reduced work weeks and furloughed or laid off "many" of its staffers.

The company's chairman and CEO, John Wren, said during the company's earnings call that it isn't all "doom and gloom." 

"If you look at our health-care sector, it's probably up," he said, pointing to the company's public relations business in the health-care space. "There are areas of our business, despite all the difficulty that's out there, that are in fact growing." 

Wren said the company's agencies are also working with major clients like Pepsi and AT&T to retool their creative messaging for these times, with messaging to reach their own employees or the public. 

The company said other businesses didn't perform as well as expected, including events and field marketing, which were "in large part shut down" as a result of stay-at-home orders and restrictions on travel and large gatherings.

Wren said the postponement of the Olympics and other major sporting events further compounded the challenges. 

"Even though some of our events businesses have done an excellent job of executing virtual events, overall, it has not been enough to make up for the lost revenue," he said. 

How the advertising world is coping with COVID-19
How the advertising world is coping with COVID-19